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Timing of Graham grievance is curious

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When Saints tight end Jimmy Graham didn’t immediately file a grievance challenging the amount of his franchise tag, it appeared that he didn’t want to inflame the situation pending efforts to work out an acceptable long-term deal.

Ultimately, it appeared that Graham would wait to see whether the Saints sign him to a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline.  Absent a long-term deal, Graham then could have filed his grievance as of July 16.

So why file now?

Apart from the impact the resolution of the grievance may have on negotiations regarding a long-term deal (and if Graham wins he definitely gets more leverage), the move provides the rest of the league with a clear reminder that, after teams use their first-round picks on Thursday night, they can fatten their offseason haul by signing Graham to an offer that, if not matched by the Saints, would cost first-round picks in 2015 and 2016.

For teams with General Managers on the hot seat, signing Graham becomes an intriguing possibility.  If the G.M. won’t be around to use the 2015 and 2016 picks anyway, who cares about sending them to the Saints?  Given that it’s very rare nowadays for General Managers to be fired by one team and then to become General Managers with another team, guys who have those jobs sometimes need to make bold moves to keep those jobs.

Intriguing options include the Texans (who with the right moves in 2014 will be picking a lot lower in 2016), the Browns (who seem to be intent on making a splash, somehow), the Raiders (whose G.M. clearly needs a big year), the Falcons (where snagging Graham from the arch-rivals in New Orleans to replace Tony Gonzalez would send shock waves through the league), the Bills (whose G.M. soon will have a new boss), the Lions (who seem to be intent on finding a Jimmy Graham for new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi), and the Giants (whose G.M. seems to realize that time is running out, and who could use the weapon for Eli Manning).

The challenge would be to craft a deal the Saints wouldn’t be able to match.  Currently, the Saints have $3.4 million in cap space.  Of the team listed above, the Texans have $12.5 million, the Browns have a whopping $29.1 million, the Raiders have $12.7 million, the Falcons have $8.4 million, the Bills have $13.5 million, the Lions have only $1.369 million, and the Giants have $3.9 million.

Teams that easily could pilfer Graham with an offer the Saints couldn’t match include the Bengals ($23.7 million), the Jaguars ($27.2 million), the Dolphins ($16.3 million), the Jets ($23.7 million), and the Eagles ($20.2 million).  Ultimately, the question for those teams becomes whether there’s a reason to give up first-round picks in 2015 and 2016 at a time when none of their General Managers are in obvious (or grave) danger of being fired.

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‘It’s good?’ Possible bonus for kickoff between uprights

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Two referees stand beneath the goal post before a field-goal or extra-point attempt, waiting there to determine if a kick sails beyond the crossbar and between the uprights for a successful conversion.

Imagine that for kickoffs, too

Such is one rules-change proposal that will be considered next week at the NFL owner meetings. This one, proposed by Washington owner Dan Snyder, stands to reward a team whose kickoff is ruled “good” with field position, as its opponent would start the ensuing drive at the 20-yard line as opposed to the expected 25.

This is not the first time something like this has been discussed. Last November, the Ravens banged the drum for a one-point scoreboard incentive on such straight-shot kicks. (Note: We need to find a name for these. Kickoff conversions?)

Snyder’s rule proposal is a more tame version, albeit one that still incentivizes touchbacks and thereby furthers the NFL’s player-safety cause.

Potential drawbacks to the rule, other than its ease for video gamers, appear few. One potential concern that could be raised, however, is whether or not the monitoring of a “good” kickoff will compromise the crew’s ability to position itself properly for a returned kickoff.

Currently, one referee stands near the goal post for kickoffs. If kickoffs are to be judged like field goals and extra points, a second official would have to join him or her. If a converted kickoff is a one-person ruling, this concern is rendered moot.

Secondly, there is the matter of doing too much. Last year, the league made the extra point more interesting — and, some might argue, too interesting — when turning a gimme try into a 33-yard attempt. “Kickoff conversions” would be the latest example of making a wrinkle of something that once was routine.

Too many wrinkles can be off-putting.

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Dan Snyder wants to be able to opt out of “Color Rush”

Washington did not play a Thursday night game last season, which means Washington did not wear a “Color Rush” uniform. Dan Snyder would like to keep it that way.

Among the 2017 NFL rules proposals announced today is one by Washington which would change league bylaws to allow teams to opt out of the Color Rush uniforms.

Under current rules, teams playing on the “Color Rush” Thursday night games have to wear the uniforms. Washington didn’t have to because its only Thursday game was on Thanksgiving afternoon, so the only visual evidence we have that Color Rush uniforms were designed for the team is the promotional photo you see here.

In general, the league doesn’t like to allow teams to opt out of league-wide endeavors like “Color Rush,” so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Snyder’s fellow owners vote down his idea. But if an owner doesn’t like how “Color Rush” looks on his team, it’s a little odd that the league can force it on him.

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Saints re-sign DL Darryl Tapp

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Two days after the Saints acquired linebacker Manti Te’o, they re-signed someone they hope can make his New Orleans debut a bit easier.

New Orleans added more help up front, striking a one-year deal with defensive end Darryl Tapp. This depth signing caps an active two-week stretch for the Saints’ defensive line, as it also secured Nick Fairley and Alex Okafor.

Tapp is entering his 12th NFL season and second in New Orleans. The 32-year-old hasn’t missed a game the past three years. In 2016, he logged 17 tackles and half a sack while playing 292 defensive snaps.

The Saints look to improve the NFL’s 27th-ranked defense from 2016.

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NFL to consider 15 new rules, 6 new bylaws, 3 new resolutions

AP

NFL owners will vote on a wide variety of potential new rules, new league bylaws and new resolutions, covering everything from whether a player can leap over the line of scrimmage on a field goal to whether a team can opt-out of the league’s “Color Rush” uniforms.

2017 rule proposals

1. By Philadelphia: Gives additional protections for long snappers on kick plays.

2. By Philadelphia: Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays.

3. By Philadelphia: Expands the “crown of helmet” foul to include “hairline” part of helmet.

4. By Philadelphia: Amends the challenge system by granting a third challenge if a club is successful on at least one of its initial two challenges, and expands reviewable plays outside of two minutes of each half.

5. By Washington: Eliminates the limit of three total challenges per team per game and eliminates the requirement that a team be successful on each of its first two challenges in order to be awarded a third challenge.

6. By Washington: Moves the line of scrimmage to the 20-yard line for any touchback where the free kick travels through the uprights.

7. By Buffalo and Seattle: Permits a coach to challenge any officials’ decision except scoring plays and turnovers.

8. By Competition Committee: Makes permanent the rule that disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

9. By Competition Committee: Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line for one year only.

10. By Competition Committee: Reduces the length of preseason and regular season overtime periods to 10 minutes.

11. By Competition Committee: Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection.

12. By Competition Committee: Makes crackback blocks prohibited by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.

13. By Competition Committee: Replaces the sideline replay monitor with a hand-held device and authorizes designated members of the Officiating department to make the final decision on replay reviews.

14. By Competition Committee: Makes it Unsportsmanlike Conduct to commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the game clock.

15. By Competition Committee: Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half.

2017 bylaw proposals

1. By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.1 to eliminate the mandatory cutdown to 75 Active List players.

2. By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.14 to place a player who has suffered a concussion, and who has not been cleared to play, on the club’s Exempt List, and be replaced by a player on the club’s Practice Squad on a game-by-game basis until the player is cleared to play.

3. By Washington: Amends Article XIX, Sections 19.8(B) and 19.9(B) to permit clubs to opt out of the “color rush” jerseys created for Thursday Night Football.

4. By Competition Committee: Liberalizes rules for timing, testing, and administering physical examinations to draft-eligible players at a club’s facility for one year only.

5. By Competition Committee: Changes the procedures for returning a player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness to the Active List to be similar to those for returning a player that was Designated for Return.

6. By Competition Committee; The League office will transmit a Personnel Notice to clubs on Sundays during training camp and preseason.

2017 Resolution Proposals

1. By Philadelphia: Amends the NFL’s On-Field Policy to allow clubs to have an alternate helmet in a color to match their third uniform.

2. By Competition Committee: Permits a club to negotiate and reach an agreement with a head coach candidate during the postseason prior to the conclusion of the employer club’s season.

3. By Competition Committee: Permits a contract or non-contract non-football employee to interview with and be hired by another club during the playing season, provided the employer club has consented.

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Goodell wants to cut five minutes of down time from NFL games

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks the league can make games about five minutes shorter without eliminating anything fans will miss.

Goodell said on NFL Network that he believes some of the league’s ideas for cutting delays during the game can reduce the length of game from last year’s average of three hours and seven minutes to an average more like three hours and two minutes.

“We were 3:07 and change this year,” he said. “We think we probably can get probably close to five minutes of down time out of the game, so that would get somewhere in the 3:02 range.”

Goodell said he worries that if the league doesn’t eliminate down time, fans will decide to turn games off.

“There’s a lot of wasted time in there,” Goodell said. “You don’t want to give them an excuse to step out and do something else.”

Some of the NFL’s ideas include fewer commercial breaks (though not fewer commercials, as each break will now be one commercial longer), speeding up replay reviews and moving more quickly between touchdowns, extra points and kickoffs.

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Robert Kraft thanks Mexican, American authorities for finding jerseys

Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jerseys are back in New England, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement thanking authorities in both the United States and Mexico for tracking the stolen jerseys down.

“We want to thank the FBI, the Mexican authorities and the many different local agencies that were involved in the investigation and ultimate recovery of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey,” Kraft said. “Working along with the Patriots and NFL security, those agencies collectively coordinated an investigation that also led to the recovery of Tom’s missing Super Bowl XLIX jersey. It was great to have both jerseys returned to Gillette Stadium today. I don’t know that any agency could have accomplished this independently, but collectively multiple agencies – both in the U.S. and in Mexico – worked together to achieve the goal of retrieving the stolen property. It is another example of the importance of teamwork and what can be accomplished when everyone works together. We appreciate the effort of everyone involved and look forward to returning these jerseys to Tom when he gets back to New England.”

By stressing the importance of American-Mexican cooperation, Kraft could be subtly attempting to distance himself from President Trump, whom Kraft has described as a friend. The Patriots have received some criticism for the support that Kraft, Brady and Bill Belichick have given to Trump.

An employee of a Mexican newspaper who has attended multiple Super Bowls on press credentials has been identified as the suspect in the thefts, although he has not been criminally charged.

Photo via Patriots.com.

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Packers sign DL Ricky Jean Francois

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A team not usually known for its free-agency activity made a 313-pound splash Thursday.

The Packers signed former Washington defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois to a one-year, $3 million contract, a source confirmed to Pro Football Talk. ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported the story, earning an undisclosed number of Markman points.

Jean Francois, 30, appeared in all 32 games of his two-year tenure in Washington. The versatile run stopper started seven of them with 57 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

He previously visited the Seahawks and Bears before committing to Green Bay.

The Packers, known for developing and re-signing their own talent, do make the occasional exception. They bolstered their tight end position with two signings earlier this month, signing Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks.

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Jets land WR Quinton Patton after visit

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There was little in the 2016 Jets passing game to tantalize free-agent wide receivers this spring, the trio of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty and Geno Smith combining for a league-low 67.6 team quarterback rating.

But the NFL is a relationship business.

One of Quinton Patton’s led him to New York.

The former Niners wide receiver has signed with the Jets, the club announced Thursday. He reunites with offensive coordinator John Morton, who was San Francisco’s wide receivers coach during Patton’s first two years in the league.

Patton visited the organization last Saturday.

The 2013 fourth-round pick from Louisiana Tech set career highs last season with 37 catches for 408 yards. He becomes the Jets’ first wide-receiver signing since Brandon Marshall’s release on March 2. Marshall went on to sign a two-year deal with the Giants.

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Welcome, Michael Gehlken

Five days ago, we said farewell to Zac Jackson. Today, we say hello to Michael Gehlken.

The former Chargers reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune, whose position there went away when the team did, joins us on an open-ended arrangement with the understanding that he may soon secure another opportunity to cover a West Coast franchise.

A San Diego native with a degree from UC Davis (and maybe a Ken O’Brien jersey), Gehlken joined the Union-Tribune in 2012. We’ve long admired his work, and we are very fortunate to have him (and we probably won’t be fortunate enough to have him for very long).

Please give him a warm welcome in the comments. Or make him feel at home by treating him like you treat the rest of us.

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Patriots due to visit White House on April 19

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April 18 is tax day in America. April 19 will be Patriots Day at the White House.

One day after the deadline for submitting those 1040s to Uncle Sam, President Donald Trump will welcome the Super Bowl champions  for the first of his ceremonial sporting-team visits to the White House.

Via NFL.com, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced on Thursday the date for the visit. It will be the fifth trip to the White House for the Patriots.

It remains to be seen how many players stay away, and how many of those who skip the trip will do so for political reasons. (Several, including linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Devin McCourty, and former tight end Martellus Bennett have said they won’t go.) Now that the date has been set and roughly four weeks remain, look for reporters to start tracking down players to find out whether others won’t be attending.

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Competition Committee not concerned about more ties from 10 minute overtime

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The NFL’s Competition Committee hopes to shorten overtime in the preseason and regular season from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. Coupled with the two-possession rule that applies if the first team to get the ball kicks a field goal, this rule change necessarily will result in more ties.

The Competition Committee disagrees.

“We don’t think it will lead to more ties,” Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said during a Thursday afternoon media conference call. “Could it? It could. We’re more concerned about player safety.”

If that’s the case, then the two-possession rule should be ditched for all non-playoff games. With it still in place, there definitely will be occasions when: (1) the team receiving the opening kickoff will drive into position for a field goal, consuming half of the 10 minutes or more; (2) the other team will muster a field goal within the remaining time; and (3) there won’t be enough time left after that to break the tie.

So just make it sudden death. Or adopt the college overtime rules. Or come up with something else.

Here’s an idea, possibly inspired by the creative questions asked by Barstool Big Cat and PFT Commenter during the call. One team’s offense and the other team’s defense would go to one end of the field. At the other end of the field would be the other offense and defense.

And then they’d go back and forth attempting two-point conversions, like a hockey or soccer shootout. There could be 20 seconds or so between plays, giving it a frenetic pace that would make it even more exciting. Both teams would get three tries each. If neither team prevails, then it would go back and forth until someone ends up with two more points than the other team.

If anyone has a better idea, offer it up below. If the league wants a shorter (and better) overtime period, now’s the time to start embracing suggestions and thinking outside the echo chamber.

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NFL’s touchback experiment may continue in 2017

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The NFL began an experiment in 2016, pushing the starting line following a kickoff from the 20- to 25-yard line as part of a stated effort to increase the number of touchbacks and decrease the number of player injuries.

Its experiment may continue.

At next week’s league owner meetings, the NFL Competition Committee will present the option to extend the one-year experiment to at least a two-year one. The committee was “pleased” with the 2016 results, said Dean Blandino, senior vice president of officiating.

“Touchbacks were up,” Blandino said in a media conference call Thursday. “The lowest rate of return in NFL history at 39.3 percent. We’re proposing that for another year to get another year’s worth of data and then evaluate that after the 2017 season.”

A second season will help determine if the 2016 touchback figures were a fluke. That possibility seems unlikely, considering each season provides a fairly amply sample size for kickoffs; there were more than 2,600 last year, not including onside kicks.

If the results repeat, the temporary rule may become a permanent one. This benefits offenses. The average starting position following a kickoff was the 24.8-yard line last season, a notable jump from 21.7 in 2015.

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Defenseless player rule could include receivers running routes

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Seven years ago, the concept of the “defenseless player” became a major focal point for the NFL, after a Sunday in October when three big hits to the heads of pass-catchers happened in three different games within a relatively short time frame. Next week, the protection could be expanded in an unprecedented way.

The Competition Committee will recommend the inclusion of receivers running pass routes into the definition of defenseless players. This would prevent those receivers from being struck in the head or neck area, even if they are within the five-yard zone where they legally can be chucked at least one time.

Nothing was said about protections for the defenders who are now prohibited from striking receivers in the head while running routes. Last year, a controversial interference non-call from a Falcons-Seahawks regular-season game based on a hit from cornerback Richard Sherman was preceded by a strong blow to the head at the line of scrimmage on Sherman by receiver Julio Jones.

 

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NFL will consider allowing coaches to challenge all penalties

AP

A major change could be coming to instant replay in the NFL.

A proposal allowing challenges to every officiating decision will be brought forward jointly by the Bills and Seahawks at next week’s league meeting. If the owners vote in favor of the new rule, all penalties — from holding to pass interference, facemasking to false start — could be challenged.

“That is a significant change to our current replay rule and it is something that will be on the floor and will be debated and voted on next week,” NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said.

That would be perhaps the most radical change made to instant replay since the NFL began replay reviews. It would allow for all sorts of calls (and non-calls) to be challenged that in the past were never reviewed.

However, it seems like a long shot that the proposal will pass. The NFL is generally very cautious about changes to instant replay. And that change would be significant.

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Chargers re-sign RB Branden Oliver

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Of the Chargers’ four running backs to hit the open market this month, the franchise had interest in re-signing two of them.

One, Danny Woodhead, got away to Baltimore. The other is back.

Branden Oliver has returned to the club on a one-year deal, the team announced Thursday. He joins recent signing Kenjon Barner, Kenneth Farrow and Andre Williams as rotational depth behind Melvin Gordon.

Oliver missed all of the 2016 season to a torn Achilles, which he suffered during an August exhibiton game in Minnesota. Los Angeles chose not to tender the 25-year-old as a restricted free agent.

Still, he was valued. A physical runner despite his 5-foot-8 listed height, he logged 191 carries for 690 yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons.

Former Chargers running backs Dexter McCluster and Ronnie Hillman remain free agents. The team also announced Thursday that safety Adrian Phillips signed his exclusive-rights tender.

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